Native leaders demand protection from miners


Native leaders demand protection from miners


Jordana Huber

Canwest News Service

Copyright © 2008 Vancouver Sun




TORONTO — Six first nations leaders from northern Ontario, who were incarcerated for defying a court order allowing a mining company to explore on their traditional territory, will be in appeal court today to argue against their six-month jail sentences.


Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) Chief Donny Morris and five other community members have already spent 68 days in jail for contempt of court, but will continue to fight for their right to say no to mining, KI lawyer Chris Reid said.


Ontario's mining legislation, which dates from 1873 and allows prospectors "free entry" to stake claims granting mineral rights, regardless of who owns the surface land, made the arrests of the aboriginal leaders "inevitable," he said.


"We hope the Court of Appeal will send a message to the government that the mining law needs to be reformed," Reid said. "Communities need to be able to have the right to say no to exploration and mining on their land or this kind of thing is going to happen again and again."


With more than a half-million square kilometres of mineral claims now staked across Canada's boreal forest under the "free-entry" system used in most provinces, Larry Innes, executive director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, said the potential for conflict with first nations is rising.


"We're caught in a situation where old laws are catching up to new realities," Innes said. "Society is demanding different things when it comes to dealing fairly with aboriginal people and one is ensuring broad public policy objectives are achieved before private interests are granted on public land."


Aboriginal leaders across the country argue they are not opposed to development on traditional lands, but the provinces have an obligation to adhere to recent Supreme Court rulings establishing a duty to consult and accommodate first nations.


Dave Porter, a member of the B.C. First Nations Leadership Council, is chairman of a conference on mining and aboriginal rights planned for B.C. in October. He said aboriginal leaders will discuss amendments to B.C.'s mining law that would stop prospectors from staking claims without consultation.


"What happened in Ontario could happen here," said Porter.


"A dialogue between first nations, government and the mining industry needs to take place not only on how mining is conducted but there also needs to be a discussion of first nation interests in terms of job opportunities, training, and resource revenue and profit sharing."


Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the province is still "coming to grips" with trying to balance the interests first nations and the mining industry, but acknowledged the current system is no longer "acceptable."